Why I ‘Often’ Say Not-so-Nice Things About Master Gardeners…

“You seem to have a real problem with master gardeners. What is your ******* problem? Are you jealous that you are not one? Master gardeners are experts and instead of being a ******** about gardening you should actually learn something about gardening. You know **** and you give poor advice. I’m sick of you ******* about us. You are one of those ******** that once planted a plant and now think you know every ******* thing about gardening and you probably have to copy your blog articles off of someone elses blog and put them up as yours because you are so ******* dumb. All the comments you have up are the good ones because you probably delete all the ones that ***** at you because you are a ******* *******.  You are making fun all the time of people that actually know how to garden and you give master gardeners a bad name. I wish someone would regulate blogs so stupid ********** losers like you could not write dumb*** articles or copy other peoples articles. Why don’t  you stop being so ****** up and go become a master gardener so you are not so full of ****!



Dear Lynn,

Thank you for your comment. Your comment is proof that all comments posted on my blog are published, although yours has been edited for this post because of your use of colorful language. I made the edits equally colorful.  However, your original post on my “Post a Question” page has been left in its entirety because I do not have the ability to edit posts to my page.  My readers that enjoy the rancor of a sailor’s tongue can head over to view it in all of its explicative glory.

So, why do I sometimes say things about Master Gardeners that may indicate that not all are experts?


Real World Justification

I totally agree with other bloggers and forum posters that “Master Gardener” is a misnomer and I have said that attending classes (where attendance usually isn’t even required), completing a take-home open book test, and then performing 40 volunteer hours does not make anyone a “master” at anything.  As one of my friends, who is a Master Gardener, said of her training, “there were people in my class who’d never put a plant in the ground in their lives, and after “training” and certification, still hadn’t. One man didn’t even know that potatoes grow under the ground.”

“Master” in the name leads to problems like:

– People that know nothing about gardening think it is the same has having a Master’s Degree or being a Master Carpenter. These are titles that represents actual mastery of a subject through hard work, non-open book tests, and more than just showing up and standing around for volunteer work.

– Apparently, it can go to people’s heads (as seen in my experience).  “Some Master Gardeners take that title seriously and are quite vain about it.”  “They are quite pompous for the limited amount they know.”

– It makes people insipid:  “They use the title of ‘Master Gardener’ as evidence of knowledge of all outdoor things with all-inclusive expertise. Plus they tend to be really really boring because when you start to talk about plants they can’t say anything because they have gotten lost by your knowledge.”

– The name is often mistakenly assumed to indicate a higher level of knowledge and training than actual horticulturists with years of university training.

– Many complaints that America’s Master Gardener, Jerry Baker, is a known quack who’s made millions off that self-proclaimed title while giving advice that often kill or stunt plants. It died because you aren’t a master like him.  Ever wonder which program on PBS’s Create channel gets the worst reviews and has the highest number of complaints from non-Master Gardener garden groups and viewers? Jerry Baker’s show.


My Justification

When I was in my teens, I worked at research facility that had trial gardens. The folks I worked with all had experience with farm crops (having been raised on the farm), except for one.  The lady in charge of the gardens was a Master Gardener, and boy, did she know it all. She made sure that everyone else knew that she knew it all too (even in areas like horses, homemaking, mechanics, and more).  Even though she had gone through the classes and was her county’s biggest, best gardener (named so by the local Master Gardeners association), she still didn’t realize that you don’t plant your cole crops 4″ apart. According to her, all the package directions for the seeds were wrong, and it was the soil’s fault that her cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. heads were golf ball size or smaller. That rotten sandy soil. Really? Then why was a researcher a few plots over growing huge cole crops with the same water and fertilizer regime?

In college, I worked on campus in my department and one of the favorite major advisors for the department was a huge Master Gardener. She had landscaped an area near one of the entrances to the building. Oooohhh, aaaahhh. NOT! Apparently she had never heard of this funny little thing called ZONES! Just because it grows as a perennial in Florida where you saw it on your last family trip does not mean it will grow here.  Even at the best of times, the area was an eyesore and finally the university told her they would be doing all future landscaping in the area because it made the campus look bad.  She also wore Wal-Mart bags on her feet and nitrile gloves on her hands because she was scared of deadly soil organisms.

After getting out of grad school, I started working at Unnamed Major Home Gardener Seed Catalog and spoke with Master Gardeners daily. How did I know that they were? Well, first of all, when they called into our customer service department and got an answer they didn’t want to hear, they made sure that the operator knew they were a Master Gardener.  Of course, said Master Gardener always wanted to talk to the horticulturist. The slips that were passed along to me for call backs always noted that I should be prepared because the customer was a Master Gardener.  They would talk to me and I would set them straight. If they didn’t like what I said, they often would tell me that I was an idiot and that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that they were a Master Gardener. I would apologize for their dissatisfaction for my response and provide them with some university extension websites from their state that they could find the information on (that repeated the exact same thing I had just told them).  This usually calmed them down, but a few would threaten to talk to my boss and get me fired. I remained at my job for years after, and when I finally left the company, it was because I wanted to leave because I was starting my own business.

This past spring, my Mom was alerted to a plant sale for the Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, Master Gardener’s Association. Tons of roses, heirloom plants and more. We went, and while there were a lot of plants, most were common plants you could find at any greenhouse (even Wal-Mart) with a huge price on them. There was also a table where Master Gardeners had brought plants from their back yards. About half of them were misidentified and some were invasive species.  My Mom purchased a ‘Scabiosa’. She has wanted one for years, and since this person had had it in their back yard growing, it must be okay for the zone. It looked healthy too. Just one little problem. “Mom, that is a hardy geranium. It looks like a Geranium macrorrhizum.” Mom planted it in the garden and when it bloomed, it looked like this:

Geranium macrorhiza


That, my friends, is a Bigroot Geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum).

And last, but not least, I still enter back home at the fair.  For years, I have been thinking I will just stop entering flowers and houseplants because the entry list becomes more convoluted each year — like it was written by someone that knows nothing about flowers and houseplants. When I was a kid, we had these two older ladies that were the superintendents and they were rock stars! The entries came in by 11 a.m. and they had things ready to go for judging 2 hours later. 1000s of entries. Over the years, these ladies retired and were replaced by local Master Gardeners. First, it was too hard to get the entries ready for judging in 2 hours. They had to be entered the day before. Then the Master Gardeners could not figure out if the entry list should read stems or blooms for various flowers. And then this year the change was made that you cannot have any pot over a couple gallons in size because they are so big.  As each change was made, the number of entries dropped significantly.  Now the entries are down to a couple hundred, and it is still just so difficult for the Master Gardener lady that is the superintendent.  This year she was baffled by petunias and daylilies. She didn’t know that petunias can have more than one bloom per stem or that daylilies are open for only one day. Petunias! Daylilies! These are common, beginning gardening plants!  And yet, she is one of the top Master Gardener in the county.  Need I say more?


The long and short of it is that I hold a Master’s Degree in Horticulture, I operate my own horticulture business, I have numerous published journal articles and am a contributor to a gardening book, I am a certified horticulturist, and I have almost 35 years of gardening experience. Despite ALL of that, I would never go so far as to call myself a Master or an Expert or anything else that would remotely suggest that “I have arrived” when it comes to gardening. Any person that TRULY has a breadth and depth of their field knows that no matter how trained they are, there is always something to be learned. I learn more about gardening every day through my own hands-on experience here at my farm and through the experiences of other gardeners that I help out with consultation and advice.


But It’s Not All Bad…

While I know many gardeners that are Master Gardeners with enough knowledge to fit on the head of a pin, there are a number of Master Gardeners that don’t have to flash their credentials to the world. These are the ones that truly embody what the Master Gardener program is supposed to be about, but helping through outreach programs and 4-H, using their talents to judge at county fairs and horticultural shows, working at a horticulturally-related job, or expanding their knowledge by getting involved with companies like Seed Savers Exchange. These non-flashy Master Gardeners know a lot about gardening and have yards that show their knowledge, and they don’t have to get up on a soap box and say, “look at me” to make themselves feel better because of their inadequacy in the garden or a lack of plant knowledge. When I gripe about Master Gardeners, my issues are not directed towards those that are using the program in the way it was meant to be rather than using it as a social status. Unfortunately, when one attends an event where a Master Gardener(s) is(are) present, it is too often the flashy, ‘expert’, attention-hungry Master Gardeners that show up. And by their actions, they show how little they know and give the organization as a whole a bad name.

Maybe a more appropriate name for the program would be “Horticultural Volunteers” or “Horticultural Research Volunteers”. I wonder how many ‘experts’ like yourself would still be interested in being in the program?


Remember, Lynn, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.





© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



16 thoughts on “Why I ‘Often’ Say Not-so-Nice Things About Master Gardeners…

  1. I’ve seen in some of your past posts that you have made off handed references to Master Gardeners, but I never thought it was anything mean. I am a Master Gardener and I completely agree with you. There are people that went through the 3 training sessions with me that seemed more equipped for Beauty School than the garden because the soil was “ew, gross” or the bugs were going to bit them or the wind might ruin their hair. Based on my classes, about 50% of the other students were there for validation rather than interest. Sad but too true.

  2. @Lynn

    You must be a Master Gardener from Trenton. Or the mob.

    @Mertie Mae

    I’ve also found that most Master Gardeners are very short on knowledge, though I know quite a few nice ones. I learned from the classes I took but once I had the certification, the volunteering got to be too time-consuming, plus there was very little real plant trading and or in-depth horticultural talk going on. They’d actually tease me for using Latin names.


    It was more like a social club for old folks who liked growing tomatoes. Or talking about when they used to try and grow tomatoes. Lots of meetings and busywork… and not nearly enough real experimentation with plants.

  3. I could not agree more! I have seen the more “misinformed” coming out of the Master Gardener program here in Grant County than I have in the other places I have lived. That being said, there are always exceptions to the rule. THe person who runs the program in the state, Susan Mahr, is extremely well-qualified so it is not for her lack of knowledge. It is, as you point out, the qualifications of most of those coming to the program and their lack of effort in learning versus attention that makes poor examples. I have always thought that “Amateur Gardener Association” would be a better title.

  4. I have a degree in horticulture and landscaping and 20 years of running my own company and 3 years of organic farming and before that IPM scouting. I have had the experience many times where a MG asks if I am an MG, as if that would be the crown of glory. When I tell them that no, I am a horticulturist, they seem to not know what to do with the information and I see the wind blow right out from their sails. I gather that MG training does not address where MGs fit in the ranking of those who have gardening skills or training. I have had people — MGs — who know my background apologize for what they believe is their own undeserved title.

    My recommendation has always been:
    1) Don’t call have “Master’ or “horticulture” or “certified” in the title due to the modest amount of education provided in the US under the present program. It’s generally a good program that rises and falls with the quality of the ext. agents responsible for it. But none of these terms fit if one is honest.

    2) I like your Horticulture Volunteer or even maybe Garden Volunteer. It is more than sufficient and certainly more accurate than most suggestions I’ve heard over the years.

    3) The training should include much more info about scientifically proven organic options instead of teaching more to what is the latest passing fad in the industry. I have read many of your posts where you educate readers about mulch, pesticides, square foot gardening and Topsy Turvies. There’s plenty of data to support the effectiveness and reduction in hazard in employing many organic methods rather than listening to the garden centers, catalogs, and similar that are trying to make a buck by having you buy something that you don’t need or that will not work. I remember you said somewhere in a post that if it is really easy and saves you more than 2 hours doing it the regular way, it is harming your garden more than helping. Very true.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    • I’m a Master Gardener, and what I’ve been taught is from horticulture professionals from our Land Grant University, which makes it research based. I also talk about the benefits of organics. Yes, a lot of MG’s take the title way too seriously, because they think far too much of themselves. When I talk to people I tell them MG title sounds a bit much, but that I love to garden and share what I know. As with all things, you will get opinions from a-z, we all have one, each is entitled to their own, just don’t cram your’s down my throat please.

  5. Once when I was at a Lake County Extension program, I ended up standing next to a Master Gardener who worked for the office answering the gardening questions that came in for their website. I said I had been debating taking the classes because of my interesting in propagation, and the Master Gardener told me that I was better off taking a class through the university because she said that “If you want a successful garden, do not become a Master Gardener. We Master Gardeners tend to kill more plants than we save because we’re constantly pushing our boundaries and trying to find the right micro-climates in our yard to put plants that normally wouldn’t survive. And we often fail.” So for us Floridians, there you have it.

  6. @Mertie Mae: You are the bees knees and you rock! I love your blog, and even though I usually just lurk, I figured you could use some fan love today!

    @Lynn: you have some serious issues. Instead of telling Mertie Mae off, go eat a box of soap and take a look in a mirror to see a loser.

  7. My problem with MG program is it is supposed to help alleviate the expense of running a county “extension service” by having a “hotline” staffed with MG’s….well I called once and recieved no call back- you can only leave a message.
    My other problem with MG’s is that they are idiots. As a professional nurseryman (I know we have a bad rep sometimes too) we mostly consider them nin-cum-poops and bored housewives! They are no help to the gardening public at all. I know because I am in the public every day answering hard questions and finding the answers on the spot.
    Another problem I have with MG’s is they mistakingly think they know something! They actually think they have a title! It’s really just a joke on these poor people who have an interest in horticulture.

    • Monica,
      As a garden retailer in a semi-rural area (read, not much highly sophisticated inventory or demand for “fancy pants” goods) we are inundated several times a week with requests for cultural advice and identification of plant problems…as a trained MG myself (who is restricted from advertising this fact) I know the drill of how to refer folks to the local extension office, and for tougher problems either one of the regional specialists or the state pathology lab etc.
      However, when I do that, the majority of the customers give me the look that says, “are you kidding” and I find out they have tried to get an answer from our local MG’s thru the extension but they either were either given conflicting or useless/vague info or were ignored. So, they end up on my plate and as a good retailer, I do try to give good customer service w/o “giving the store” away, in the hopes of making a sale. But I am beginning to find that some customers are abusing my help in that they always ask and then never buy…so for those folks the “free” pipeline is shutting down.
      This spring I have again been asked to give a talk at the MG spring seminar. I do it as it is a great way to get our name out there marketing-wise, but it does require alot of prep time (handouts, Powerpoint).
      When I was in the landscape trade (designing/estimating), if a client dropped the info that she (I’ve only known 2 MG guys) was a MG it usually would set bells off: uh oh, here we go….and I’d have to get my MG “game face” on and also have to forewarn and appease the landscape job foreman as the MG’s could sometimes drive them a little nuts. And yes, we would add-in the PIA factor into the job cost to cover the extra time that would result in what at some instances could become a MG initiated Landscaping Spanish Inquisition.

  8. Pingback: Disk and Ray: Delving into Composite Flowers | Horticulture Talk!

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